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Horgan says B.C. will push back on feds over return to rule against passengers on enclosed car decks

Transport Canada has the final say, and they've gone back to their existing rules
BC Ferries. File photo

Premier John Horgan had strong words Wednesday for Transport Canada and what he calls their "unwelcome intrusion" into how BC Ferries has been transporting passengers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier in the day, BC Ferries revealed that Transport Canada had reversed an earlier ruling that passengers could remain in their vehicles during sailings in an effort to stop transmission of COVID-19.

Starting Oct. 1, passengers who are in vehicles on enclosed car decks must exit their vehicles and access seating on vessels on most major routes, including those in and out of Metro Vancouver's two terminals. 

"We were disappointed with the announcement from Transport Canada," said Horgan during the B.C. Fall Pandemic Plan briefing Wednesday.

Horgan added that he had been in touch with the Deputy Prime Minister just prior to the media briefing to discuss the matter. 

Transport Canada has asserted its decision to revert to usual practices was based on safety. The federal department told BC Ferries “the marine safety case for ending the practice of permitting people to remain in their vehicles on enclosed car deck is clear.”

However, Horgan called those regulations "a bit heavy-handed."

"We believe that our marine highway is an integral part and essential service to a huge number of British Columbians," said the premier. "We believe that we can safely transport people provided that we have support and cooperation from Ottawa."

Horgan added that the reversal of the suspension of the rules wasn't something the B.C. government sought, but rather "something that's being imposed."

"We're going to continue to press the federal government," said Horgan. "This is an unwelcome intrusion," he continued, adding B.C. will "pursue it aggressively."

Similarly, in a tweet, Horgan shared Wednesday: "People want to be able to stay in their cars on  @BCFerries and have done so safely for several months. This decision by Transport Canada just doesn't work for people here in BC and we're going to push to get it fixed."

BC Ferries said in a statement that enclosed car decks represent an inherent risk to the travelling public, but that "during the pandemic, these risks were mitigated with additional safety procedures and patrols."

Routes affected by the closed-car-deck regulation include Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen, Duke Point-Tsawwassen, Departure Bay-Horseshoe Bay, Comox-Powell River, and Southern Gulf Islands-Tsawwassen.

To accommodate passengers exiting vehicles, BC Ferries will open up areas that had been closed down, like the Pacific Buffet dining room, though buffet food service will not resume. 

On the Horseshoe Bay-Langdale route, BC Ferries has approval from Transport Canada to allow passengers to remain on the main vehicle deck following modifications to the vessels and procedures, but that does not apply to any other routes.

With files from Carla Wilson/Times Colonist